Erik ten Hag wants Alejandro Garnacho to start and challenge for a regular starting job after the 18-year-old jeopardized his long-term future with Manchester United.
The talented winger arrived at Old Trafford from Atlético Madrid in 2020, in the last wave of international transfers before the Brexit rules changed.
Garnacho was named Jimmy Murphy’s Young Player of the Year last season after playing a key role in United’s FA Youth Cup triumph and then made his first-team debut in April.
The Argentina youth international did not appear on the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia after frustrating Ten Hag, but has since won over the Dutchman and signed a new contract until 2028.
“First of all, I think he has the prize and it is a prize,” the United manager said of Garnacho. “He also shows that he can take the final step, not only in talent, but he also made it.
“But now it’s a new beginning, a reset, because now the expectations will be higher, the demands will definitely be higher.
“He’s on his way, he’s a strong character and that’s why he’s at this level right now, and he did it alone.
“But now there is more work ahead because the demands are higher, we expect more from him.
“But it’s great that he did it because he says we’ll give young players opportunities, but they have to deserve it.
“When I say ‘give’ translate it to ‘deserve’ and they have to deserve with their feet, they have to show it on the field and that means that you have to invest a lot and deserve it by training performance, performance in the under-21s, so wait for your moment and prove it again.
“For Alejandro, he is that step further, but now the demands will be even higher because he now has to compete for a starting XI position.
“So every time it’s the same: you have to cross the limits and every time you have to go to the next level.
“We’re going with him on that challenge, but the most important thing is that the player has to do it.”
Garnacho has been on the back burner for the past seven weeks with an ankle injury sustained against Southampton, a problem that also saw him miss out on a chance to link up with the Argentina senior team in March.
But the teenager has made good progress and is closing in on a return to action, although Thursday’s Premier League trip to Brighton comes too soon.
“We have a training, but I think it’s too early to be available,” Ten Hag said. “I think he’s short, I think he needs some training and then on short notice he’ll be available.”
Raphael Varane is also making good progress on his return to fitness.
The 30-year-old was injured in last month’s Europa League quarter-final first leg against Sevilla, when teammate Lisandro Martinez suffered a season-ending metatarsal injury.
Varane will be unavailable at Brighton and then West Ham on Sunday, but Ten Hag suggested he could return for United’s home game against Wolves on May 13.
“The prognosis, I think Rapha is closer than Scott McTominay at the moment,” the United manager said. “But still for the next two games, they’re not available.”
United have a chance to strengthen their grip on a Champions League qualifying spot when they take on the high-flying Seagulls on Thursday.
Brighton are the only away team to have won at Old Trafford in the league this season, but are reeling from their recent FA Cup semi-final penalty shootout loss to the Red Devils at Wembley.
“I think everyone involved in the biggest sport, if they beat you, you want revenge and it’s normal that they have a lot of motivation to beat us,” added Ten Hag.
“But we have to match that and not just match that, we have to do more.
“We have to show that we are hungrier than them to win this game and will, that’s the word for (Thursday).”